The History of Halloween: Folklore and Superstition from around the World

Holidays & Special Occasions Halloween The History of Halloween: Folklore and Superstition from around the World

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      The History of Halloween
      Halloween is a modern name that was derived from All Hallow’s Eve. According to the history of Halloween, the actual festival was called Samhain (pronounced sow-in) and mark the end of the harvest season after the live stock had been brought in and to signal the beginning of the winter season.

      It was a festival celebrated by the Celtic Druids which was celebrated on October 31st. This was the end of their year and November 1st was the beginning of the New Year, unlike today where our year ends on December 31st and the new year begins January 1st.

      Samhain (The Festival of the Dead) was observed in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. As evening drew near, they began preparations for the Vigil of Samhain (The Lord of Darkness). It was believed that the veil between the living world and the spirit world was at its thinnest, and that the spirits of the people who had died in the past year
      could cross over and walk the earth once more.

      Communication with dead kinsmen was also believed to be possible at this time, and that all magical powers were enhanced greatly.

      The people would douse the fires in their homes, for they believed that evil spirits might find their way in and possess the living. Outside, great bonfires were started by the Druids (bonfire = bone + fire). Now there is great debate of whether they sacrificed humans or not during this celebration.

      Some say sick animals that wouldn’t survive the winter and criminals…believed to be possessed by evil spirits… were burned. Once the fires died down, the Druids would read the bones and ashes left over to divine how the coming year would be. Others say that there is no basis in fact for this ritual.

      This is one of the mysteries in the history of Halloween that we may never know for sure.

      The people of the land would light torches from the fire and in turn, would re-light their own hearth fires. The belief was that the fire from the sacred bonfire would keep the evil spirits away, while allowing the spirits of their kinsfolk to find their way home.

      People would also dress up in furs and scary masks a prelude to our dressing up in costumes. They hoped that the evil spirits would be scared away or would mistake them for animals and wouldn’t try to possess their bodies.

      Another tradition was for the peasants to go door to door, begging for food. The food would be left out to appease the spirits, speeding them on their way back to the spirit world. Whoever gave food would be assured of receiving a prayer from the peasants for good fortunes for the coming year.

      Those that were stingy received eggs and rocks thrown at their homes, among other pranks. We can see where some of our traditions came from, can’t we?

      According to the history of Halloween, this was also the beginning of the New Year as well, and many activities involving predictions also took place, aside from the bone reading of the Druids. This was a time when fortune telling, tealeaf readings and other divination methods would be the most powerful for the future. One of the fun celebrations we still uphold is bobbing for apples.

      The Celts believed that the first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry.

      Another tradition was to peel an apple from top to bottom. The person with the longest unbroken peel would be assured the longest life. If you threw the apple peel over your shoulder, the initial it forms upon landing is the initial of your future mate.

      In the 7th century, the Romans conquered England and brought many of their own traditions. One of these was the celebration of All Saints Day, which was originally celebrated in May. By the 9th century, All Saints Day was moved to November 1st and All Soul’s Day (a festival to celebrate all the dead souls) was added to November 2nd.

      The Catholic Church hoped that by combining the pagan celebration of Samhain with their own festival they could convert more people to follow the Christine religion. At this point, Samhain became known as All Hallow’s Eve (the eve before the hallowed days of All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day). Eventually, All Hallow’s Eve was shortened to Hallow E’en and then to Halloween, as we know it today.

      Halloween Superstitions

      Halloween superstitions date back thousands of years and many can be found within the history of Halloween from several different cultures, particularly those from English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh origins. Many of these myths and customs were brought to Amercia with the new settlers and some of these interesting beliefs continue to this day.

      “But,” you ask, “do people in the 21st century still really believe these superstions?”

      Surprisingly, there are millions who do have beliefs in some of these like the one where you will have 7 years bad luck if you break a mirror (not true) or you’ll have bad luck if a black cat crosses your path (unless you live in Britian or Japan… in which case it’s good luck).

      Here are some Halloween superstitions I’ve gathered over time. If you’re looking for a party activity, why not make up a trivia quiz using superstitions? Very fun to see who knows what.


      * If a candle flame suddenly turns blue, there’s a ghost nearby.

      * If you ring a bell on Halloween, it will scare evil spirits away.

      * As Halloween superstitions go, this is an interesting one. In Britian/Ireland it was believed that if you were walking along on Hallowen night and you heard footsteps behind you, you should not look back as it might be the dead following. If you did look back and meet their gaze, it was an indication that you will die soon.

      * If you see a spider on Halloween, it could be the spirit of a dead loved one who is watching you.

      * Knocking on wood keeps bad luck away.

      * A Gaelic Halloween superstion suggests that all souls that are in Purgatory are released and free for 48 hours on All Hallows Eve.

      * You should walk around your home three times backwards and counterclockwise before sunset on Halloween to ward off evil spirits.

      * Some believe if you catch a snail on Halloween night and lock it into a flat dish, in the morning you will see the first letter of your sweetheart written in the snail’s slime.

      * Many people used to believe that owls swooped down to to eat the souls of the dying. If they heard an owl hooting, they would become frightened. A common remedy was thought to be turning your pockets inside out and you would be safe.

      * In Britain, people believed that the Devil was a nut-gatherer. At Halloween, nuts were used as magic charms.

      * If a girl puts a sprig of rosemary herb and a silver sixpence under her pillow on Halloween night, she will see her future husband in a dream.

      * In North America, it’s bad luck if a black cat crosses your path and good luck if a white cat crosses your path. In Britain, Ireland, and Japan it’s exactly the opposite!

      * To prevent ghosts coming into the house at Halloween, bury animal bones or a picture of an animal near the doorway.

      * A person born on Halloween can see and talk to spirits.

      * A rural American myth states that children born on Halloween will be protected against evil spirits their entire life and will be given the gift of second sight.

      * If you go to a crossroads at Halloween and listen to the wind, you will learn all the most important things that will befall you during the next twelve months.

      * When bobbing for apples, it is believed that the first person to bite an apple would be the first to marry.

      * Peel an apple from top to bottom. The person with the longest unbroken peel would be assured the longest life. If you threw the apple peel over your shoulder, the initial it forms upon landing is the initial of your future mate.

      * If a bat flies around a house 3 times, it is a death omen.

      * In England, you are warned not to go hunting on Halloween night as you may injure a wandering spirit.

      * Another Halloween superstitions is an English tale that cautions you not to look at your shadow in the moonlight on the eve of Halloween or you will be the next to haunt a graveyard.

      * If bats come out early and fly around playfully, then it is a sign of good weather to come.

      * If a bat flies into a house it is a sign that ghosts are about and maybe the ghost let the bat in!

      The Halloween Witch and Witchcraft History

      did you know that the halloween witch is still one of the most popular costumes chosen by young girls and adults each year? it’s amazing. and one needs to ask…

      what is so fascinating about witches and witchcraft? well, here’s a little bit of history behind real witches, not the hollywood variety that we so like to copy.

      first, something that needs to be made clear is that the word ‘witch’ is derived from the old english word ‘wicce’ (meaning wise one) – and ‘wicca (meaning healer). the witch was considered a wise-woman who lived in harmony with nature and the seasons. they were skilled in the use of herbs and were often called upon to cure the ill.

      essentially, the “halloween witch” of centuries ago was a homeopathic healer.

      being a wise woman and a healer, the witch had an assortment of special items that she utilized.

      ancient mysteries – witches (dvd)
      one of these specialized items was the athame. this was the witch’s personal steel knife and was used in most rituals as it was believed to have been imbued with magical properties. the knife itself was double-edged and often had a black handle.

      the broomstick was symbolic of magical powers. its real purpose? to cleanse the area where magical rituals were performed.

      so how did the belief arise that the halloween witch rode a broomstick and flew through the sky?

      on all hallows eve, witches would often anoint themselves with a “magical” ointment. the ointment made the skin tingle and gave the illusion of being very light, perpetuating the belief that they could fly. a witch walking through the woods on her way to the festival would often use the broom as a means to help jump over a brook or stream.

      hence, they were believed to be flying. it’s amazing what the imagination can dream up, isn’t it?

      of course, we’ve all seen witches standing over bubbling cauldrons and drinking from large chalices in the movies. the cauldron was a pot used for concocting magical potions and for scrying (looking into the future on the water’s surface). the chalice was believed to be a receptacle of spiritual forces.

      remember, we’re talking ancient witchcraft history here… most beliefs were rooted in supernatural and spiritual powers.

      the wands that many witches carried were made of hazel wood, crystal, carved ivory or ebony, silver, or gold. it was believed that these wands were extensions of the life force of the witch herself.

      by themselves, each one of these symbols alone wouldn’t create much of a stir, but when combined, all these ritualistic items and beliefs in mystical, magical powers would soon convince the general populace that witches had abilities beyond what the normal person should have. add in the ability to create “magical healing potions” to cure the sick, then superstitions would quickly grow and soon you have tales of witches being able to turn themselves into cats and doing all sorts of strange things.

      in conclusion, halloween is one of the four highest holidays of the pagan celebrations and is often considered the greatest of the four, sometimes called the great sabbath. this is when the “halloween witch” takes the time to observe the supernatural powers of this world and otherworlds, and ponder the mysteries that lie in both. it is a night for honoring ancestors, celebrating the harvest, and ringing in the new year (which begins on november 1st).

      Perhaps we should take the opportunity to do the same.

      The History of the Jack-o-Lantern
      History of the Jack O’Lantern

      The Irish brought the tradition of the Jack O’Lantern to America. But, the original Jack O’Lantern was not a pumpkin.The Jack O’Lantern legend goes back hundreds of years in Irish History. As the story goes, Stingy Jack was a miserable, old drunk who liked to play tricks on everyone: family, friends, his mother and even the Devil himself.

      One day, he tricked the Devil into climbing up an apple tree. Once the Devil climbed up the apple tree, Stingy Jack hurriedly placed crosses around the trunk of the tree. The Devil was then unable to get down the tree.

      Stingy Jack made the Devil promise him not to take his soul when he died. Once the devil promised not to take his soul, Stingy Jack removed the crosses and let the Devil down.

      Many years later, when Jack finally died, he went to the pearly gates of Heaven and was told by Saint Peter that he was too mean and too cruel and had led a miserable and worthless life on earth. He was not allowed to enter heaven. He then went down to Hell and the Devil.

      The Devil kept his promise and would not allow him to enter Hell. Now Jack was scared and had nowhere to go but to wander about forever in the darkness between heaven and hell. He asked the Devil how he could leave as there was no light.

      The Devil tossed him an ember from the flames of Hell to help him light his way. Jack placed the ember in a hollowed out Turnip, one of his favorite foods which he always carried around with him whenever he could steal one. For that day onward, Stingy Jack roamed the earth without a resting place, lighting his way as he went with his “Jack O’Lantern”.

      On all Hallow’s eve, the Irish hollowed out Turnips, rutabagas, gourds, potatoes and beets. They placed a light in them to ward off evil spirits and keep Stingy Jack away. These were the original Jack O’Lanterns.

      In the 1800’s a couple of waves of Irish immigrants came to America. The Irish immigrants quickly discovered that Pumpkins were bigger and easier to carve out. So they used pumpkins for Jack O’Lanterns.

      Halloween Related Phobias
      Halloween Related Phobias

      There are a lot of fears or phobias, out there. Halloween certainly has it’s share. Here is a list of those we are aware of:

      Name: Fear of:
      Achluophobia Darkness
      Alliumphobia Garlic
      Arachnophobia Spiders
      Bogyphobia the Bogeyman
      Catoptropobia Mirrors
      Ceraunophobia Thunder
      Claustrophobia Confined spaces, like coffins
      Cleisiophobia being locked in
      Coimetrophobia Cemetaries
      Cucurbitophobia pumpkins….heaven forbid!!!
      Dementophobia Insanity
      Demonophobia Demons
      Eisoptrophobia mirrors, or seeing oneself in a mirror
      Hagiophobia saints or holy things
      Heliophobia the sun
      Hemophobia blood
      Noctiphobia night
      Phasmophobia ghosts
      Placophobia tombstones
      Samhainophobia Halloween, what’s to be afraid of!?!
      Satanophobia Satan
      Staurophobia the crucifix
      Taphephobia being buried alive
      Triskaidekaphobia The number 13
      Wiccaphobia witches

      Halloween Traditions, Symbols and Terms:

      rich in tradition, halloween has no shortage of symbols and terms. halloween parties are not complete without los of spooky decorations to set the mood. here is a listing of halloween traditions and terms, for your enjoyment and use.

      all hallow’s eve – another word for halloween night.

      bats – bats are part of the dark, sinister side of halloween. bats are purported to suck the blood of victims. bats can turn into vampires, and vice versa.

      black cat – a symbol of bad luck. don’t let a black cat cross your path, or you will certainly come upon a string of bad luck. black cats are associated with witches.

      some witches are known to be able to transform to a black cat and back.

      dracula, count dracula – the evil lord of the castle in transylvania. when the moon is full, dracula turns into a vampire.

      frankenstein – a monster created in the laboratory of scientist victor frankenstein. frankenstein has a gentle and intelligent personality. but, you wouldn’t know that.

      his scary, monstrous appearance causes everyone to run before getting a chance to know him.

      full moon – vampires arise out their coffins only at night and only during a full moon.

      garlic and garlic necklaces – ward off evil spirits, a vampire will not venture near the neck of a woman who wears a garlic necklace, mo matter how beautiful she may be. the only problem is, normal, good lucking guys will avoid her, too.

      ghosts – they can be good ghosts or bad ghosts. they can be friendly, or terrifying. ghosts are poor souls who have died and are trapped between this life and the next.

      the “in between” place is called the netherworld.

      ghoul – a ghoul is a scary creature, similar to a ghost. but a ghoul is simply scary and has little character. it wasn’t previously a human being as a ghost was. and, unlike some ghosts, a ghoul is never friendly.

      goblins – similar to ghosts and ghouls.

      grim reaper – is the fictional personification of death. he is dressed in a long, black robe with a hood. sometimes you can see a skeletal face.

      the grim reaper carries a long handled scythe(or sickle). the grim reaper comes at death to take bad people to hell.

      halloween costumes – if you are going to a halloween party or out to trick or treat, you need to dress up in a costume. no costume, no treats. halloween costumes can be friendly or scary, simple or elaborate.

      if you don’t’ have money for a costume, be creative and make your own. more on halloween costumes.

      haunted hayrides – wildly popular with pre-teens and teens. they will wait hours for their turn on a hayride to get a dose of scares and frights. they will go on the hayrides in rain (snow) or (moon)shine.

      haunted house – ghosts inhabit the house. there’s bats in the belfry. evils spirits abound.

      people avoid haunted houses for good reason. except for halloween. this time of year, people will shell out big bucks for the big scare.

      haunted hayrides – begin in early october, and continue daily through the month. it’s not a hayride if its not haunted. this hugely popular attraction is a boon to farms that hose them.

      people will wait hours for their rides. they will venture out a haunted hayride despite cold, rain, and even snow!

      jack o’lantern – also spelled jack o lantern. a pumpkin for carving. it’s believed the irish brought the tradition of pumpkin carving to america.

      lighted pumpkins – also lighted turnips and rutabagas. scary faces are carved into pumpkins and a candle is lit inside. they keep the evil spirits away.

      mummy – in some old and ancient cultures, a person who dies is embalmed and wrapped in strips of white cloth. during halloween mummies come alive and walk around the earth, scaring people. chances are they won’t catch you.

      and, if they do, what could they do with you all wrapped up from head to foot!?

      netherworld – a place, or passageway, between heaven and earth.

      paranormal – a strange or unexplained occurrence or incident. it is includes ghosts, witches, crop circles, ufo and other unexplained events.

      pumpkins – we are proud to say that pumpkins are a huge symbol of both fall and halloween. they come in many shapes, sizes ad colors. they look great carved, or uncarved.

      samhain – is this a season, the lord of darkness, or the lord of death. depending upon who you talk to, samhain can be any, or all of these.

      scarecrows – not everything about halloween is scary. scarecrows successfully cross over between fall decorations and halloween. they are popular in decorating for both events, and are much friendlier for young children.

      spooks – a ghoul or a ghost. they take pleasure in scaring people.

      trick or treat – children go out dressed up in their halloween costumes. they knock on doors, and say “trick or treat”. if they do not get a treat, look out!

      trick or treat was believed to have started with boy scouts.

      warlocks – a male witch of halloween. note, a warlock is not related to witches of the wiccan religion.

      werewolf or wolfman- a man that transforms to a wolf. more on werewolves

      wiccans – a religious group that call themselves wiccans or witches. they will argue vehemently that evil witches of halloween do not exist. here’s an interesting theory about wiccans: if you disagree with them, and they are correct, then they can not by definition cast an evil spell on you, as they claim they are good witches. as for me, i will hedge my bets and not say anything nasty……just in case.

      witches – did you know witches can be good, and witches can be bad. we definitely distinguish a difference between witches of halloween and witches of the wiccan religion. wiccans are nice witches.

      they just happen to share the same name with halloween witches. halloween witches are definitely evil, and can cast evil spell on people.

      vampire – an evil creature who rises from their coffin during a full moon to find victims. they bite the necks of victims, sucking out their blood. victims themselves become vampires.

    • #400424

      Excellent article on Halloween – well researched!

      Bright Blessings,

    • #400441

      Great article informative

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Holidays & Special Occasions Halloween The History of Halloween: Folklore and Superstition from around the World